Well, I’m now nearly 4 months into home ownership, and while I’ve got a ways to go, I’ve definitely learned a few things when it comes to creating a safe and inviting place to reside. As previous renter/apartment dweller, there are SO many things that I was clueless about when it came to living in a house, let alone owning one. Some of these are terribly specific, others more general – some are design related, some are related to the functions of home. But they are from the perspective of a once (and probably still) clueless homeowner.
1. Whenever possible, use matte paint
Matte paint looks glorious, clean, and uniform. It hides flaws. And because there is zero sheen to it, you actually see the color in the room, not the reflectiveness of the paint. Obviously it’s not always possible – it makes no sense to use a matte finish on things like kitchen cabinets, moldings, and trim, but if it’s a wall in my house, it gets a matte finish with very few exceptions. Even your bathroom can be matte if you buy the right kind of matte paint! It doesn’t clean as well as a satin or gloss finish, but I think the overall look is completely worth it. We painted our exposed beam ceilings in our family room in a matte white, and I just love how it looks.
2. Speaking of paint, there is a huge difference between generic store brand cheap paint and the good stuff
Since we’ve moved in, we’ve almost exclusively used the ridiculously expensive Benjamin Moore Aura line. The act of painting is so torturous that I wanted paint that would stay for the next 5 years at least. When I redid my pantry, I thought I could cheap out with generic paint. BIG mistake. Almost as big as kicking Julia Roberts out of a fancy clothing store on Rodeo Drive in a movie. Benjamin Moore Aura is low VOC which meant the fumes from the store brand paint made my eyes sting, AND the coverage that Aura provides is really fabulous which means that I was going to need 2-3 coats with the store brand versus 1 with Aura (which actually saves money). Another huge plus: it dries incredibly quickly. So after one coat of the pantry with toxic fumes that provided no coverage, I learned my lesson and switched back to the good stuff. One coat was all I needed to get my pantry back into shape.
3. Hang curtains as high as possible (while making sure they reach the floor).
I learned this from Sabrina Soto on Get It Sold and no truer words have ever been spoken. It may seem weird to hang drapes so far above where the windows start, but ceiling to floor drapes mean the ceilings look higher, the windows larger, and the room seems so incredibly grand. We have 8 foot ceilings in our house and all of our drape lengths range from 95″ to 98″ which are perfect for our ceilings. Check out this before and after in our bedroom (the brown curtains on the left were left in the house by the previous owners).
Standard drapes are 84″ in length but check out Ikea and Target for inexpensive yet lush looking extra long drape options. Look how stunning IKEA werna in a deep blue (starts at $39.99 for a pair) looks in this house makeover done by a really fantastic designer. It inspired me to buy them for my living room.
4. The internet is an amazing resource
For simple diy fixes like changing outlets, refacing kitchen cabinets, and replacing light fixtures, it can be incredibly scary to do it for the first time on your own – especially if you don’t consider yourself especially handy. There are tons of youtube instructional videos that break it down. The hardest part is doing it the first time, but once you get through it, you will be experienced by the next time you do it. And trust me, you will feel amazing after you change your first light fixture.
We’ve had a lot of luck with internet reviews with Angie’s list. Sometimes you need a professional. I’ll change an outlet, but I will not change electrical wiring or take my plumbing apart – I know my limits! I’m not sure what people did before the internet (also applies to #3). Unlike yelp, Angie’s List verifies that reviews are actually from people who used the service. We’ve found electricians, plumbers, and foundation experts through Angie’s List and have been overall very satisfied with the results of the projects. $29 per year seems like a an annoying tax when yelp is free, but they always have deals (I think I paid like $8 for my first year), and it’s been so worth it. Also, they have a groupon type service where you can buy things like 2 hours of a highly rated plumber’s time for a fraction of what it normally costs.
5. Spend where it makes sense
Just because things are expensive, doesn’t mean they are nice, and just because things are cheap, doesn’t mean they are crap. People rag on Ikea, but I think it’s such a great option for many home items (I have some dining chairs from Ikea that I purchased in 2004 that had a stint as our desk chairs, and now they live in the recording studio in the garage – they still look great after 10 years!). I happen to think West Elm design is just lovely, but it’s expensive for the quality of the pieces. I’m not saying that expensive pieces don’t have their place, but they should be chosen with care – making sure that both the style and the structure will last the years (or decades) that it’s intended to. Designer Emily Henderson (whose blog has claimed hours of my life) expressed her design philosophy in one sentence that grabbed me – “If something is not custom or vintage, it should be cheap.” Amen.
6. You will go to Home Depot 10 (maybe 20) more times than you plan
Just accept it. It will happen.
If the previous owners are anything like the ones who previously owned our home, they will leave you “gifts.” Our gifts? Crappy partially used cans of paint in colors that I would never choose. An old car seat. SO MANY POTTED PLANTS. Freecyle is basically a nonprofit version of craigslist “free stuff” listings with an eco-minded goal (to keep garbage out of land fills). I posted the paint and within 24 hours, someone came and picked it up for their new baby’s nursery. I posted concrete blocks, gone in 2 days. Love it.
8. You need way more money than just a down payment to buy a house
It cost us thousands of dollars to get our house electrical up to code, painting various rooms, and buying tools that only homeowners use (I really never thought I would own a shop vac). Even DIYing can get expensive, and we are putting several projects on hold so we can take care of all the initial move in stuff to get the house to a safe and livable point. We knew we would have to redo the electrical eventually, but it was a huge surprise just how dire the situation was (the updates we thought had been made turned out to be some shoddy DIYs that were actually dangerous). We had a torrential downpour in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and the “brand new roof” that the previous owners had installed began to leak. Bad house karma previous owners, bad house karma.
9. Expect the unexpected
We noticed after the first week that our floors were slanted. So me being the anxiety ridden mess that I am – we had the foundation inspected (for free thanks to Angie’s list!). The result? Our house is old. Houses move over time. The foundation is solid. And if the floors don’t bother us (they don’t, I think it adds to the charm of the place), there’s nothing to be done. We didn’t have as much luck with our wiring, that despite the 3 prong outlets in our house (which turned out to be dangerous and against code), the wiring was original. From 1944. When the electrician took some of the wiring out of our walls, it crumbled in his hands. Terrifying. So $7500 later (gulp), we had all new lighting, wiring, and panels. It was a tough financial pill to swallow, but completely worth it to make our home safe and up to code.
10. No house is perfect
Sure there are things I would like to change. I wish my kitchen weren’t such a shoddy renovation where the previous owners clearly cheaped out. I wish there wasn’t VCT tile in my bathroom. I wish the windows were restored and had better insulation. I wish my yard were sodded. But all this will happen in due time. And if it doesn’t? That’s ok too.
Sometimes if I’m feeling overwhelmed by all that I want to get done, I try to think about my house as my dogs see it. A roof over our heads? AMAZING! Various soft places to sleep? THIS IS THE MOST WONDEROUS PLACE! Food? PINCH ME I’M DREAMING! Cuddle time? MY LIFE IS THE BEST DAY EVER OVER AND OVER AGA – SHIT IS THAT A SQUIRREL I SEE OUTSIDE?